Valve CEO Gabe Newell talks about the Steam Box at CES


Although the Steam Box didn’t make its way to the CES at Las Vegas (with small gaming PCs simply running Steam in Big Picture mode on televisions filling in), Valve CEO Gabe Newell did, and had an exclusive interview with The Verge about the Steam Box itself and other topics.

“We’ll come out with our own Steam Box and sell it to consumers by ourselves. That’ll be a Linux box,” Newell said, confirming that the Steam Box will be running the Linux OS. But he doesn’t just limit it to that. “If you want to install Windows, you can. We’re not going to make it hard. This is not some locked box by any stretch of the imagination.” Currently, if you want to run Windows applications on the Linux OS, you need to use a program called Wine.

Newell also took into account the growing number of game developers paying attention to Linux and the number of users using Steam as a platform on which to play their games, saying, “We tend to think of Steam as tools for content developers and tools for producers. We’re just always thinking: how do we want to make content developers’ lives better and users’ lives a lot better? With Big Picture Mode we’re trying to answer the question: ‘How can we maximize a content developers’ investment?’ It’s not a lot easier for me to build content that spans running on a laptop, running in a living room, and running on the desktop, as opposed to completely re-writing your game.”

Newell also mentioned users being able to make their own “Steam stores” on the Steam Box. “We think that the store should actually be more like user generated content. So, anybody should be able to create a store, and it should be about extra entertainment value…some people will create Steam stores, some people will create Sony stores, some people will create stores with only games that they think meet their quality bar. Somebody is going to create a store that says ‘These are the worst games on Steam.'”

Newell also confirmed his “catastrophe” statement about Windows 8, and went a bit further as well: “The thing about Windows 8 wasn’t just [Microsoft’s] distribution. As somebody who participates in the overall PC ecosystem, it’s totally great when faster wireless networks and standards come out, or when graphics get faster. Windows 8 was like this giant sadness. It just hurts everybody in the PC business.”

He also stated that Steam Box wasn’t just meant for the living room, but that the entire house was capable of running the Steam Box and that it would also double as a server: “The Steam Box will also be a server. Any PC can serve multiple monitors, so over time, the next-generation (post-Kepler) you can have one GPU that’s serving up eight simultaneous game calls. So you could have one PC and eight televisions and eight controllers and everybody getting great performance out of it. We’re used to having one monitor, or two monitors—now we’re saying let’s expand that a little bit.”

The Steam Box, also called Bigfoot at Valve, will also have a mobile aspect (Littlefoot), but he didn’t go into too much detail about it. “[Littlefoot] says, ‘What do we need to do to extend this to the mobile space?’ Our approach will be pretty similar. We also think there’s a lot that needs to be done in the tablet and mobile space to improve input for games.” He also mentioned that one of the controller designs has a touchpad, but it is unknown whether or not it will make it to the final controller design. “We don’t want to waste people’s money by just throwing in a touchpad. Once we understand what the role is of multitouch in these kind of applications, then it’s easy to say you can use your phone for it,” Newell said, also hinting that you might be able to use your phone with the Steam Box.

When asked whether or not he can compete with Microsoft (where Newell was an employee from 1983 to 1996 and also a producer on the first three releases of Windows before founding Valve with another former Microsoft employee, Mike Harrington) and Sony in the home entertainment and console business, he said, “The Internet is super smart. If you do something that is cool, that’s actually worth people’s time, then they’ll adopt it. If you do something that’s not cool and sucks, you can spend as many marketing dollars as you want, they just won’t.”